Plough to Pantry
By Robert Turner
Take everything that you know about the grow- local, farm-to-table movement and stretch it to the extreme. What might you end up with? How about this concept? Rather than bringing food to where the people are, save the 1,500 miles of transportation and bring the people to where the food is. In fact, plant them right there with the tomatoes and onions.
This is where the local food movement is heading. It’s called the agricultural neighborhood, or agrihood. Why bring the farm to the table when you can bring the table to the farm?
The agrihood is a new concept in urban design in which an organic farm and agriculture are designed and built right into the community as a central feature and amenity. It’s a growing trend in real estate development, and there are somewhere between 150 and 200 of these agrihoods sprouting up around the country. Asheville has two of them: Olivette, north of the city, and Creekside Farm at The Cliffs at Walnut Cove on the south side in Arden.
Most residents in an agrihood have a job in town, but they seem to like the idea of coming home to the farm. And for people who want to reconnect to the farm and the bucolic lifestyle that it represents, the agricultural community is a way to help them to do just that: plug in instantly. For many residents, it’s all about closeness to the land, being more aware of the cycles of the seasons, the rain, the sun, the animals in the pasture and the green things coming up on the farm and in the garden. It’s about living well on the land.
In the land-planning world of architects and developers, the agrihood is all about protecting and preserving farmland and farming capacity in a region. It’s about mindful development. Justifiable development. This healthy, food-based trend is now convincing developers and land planners to save some farmland and the food- producing capacity of a place as a desirable amenity, much like a golf course. This is a good thing, especially in cities with rapid growth like Asheville. Otherwise, land gets developed in its entirety with no consideration of the possible amenity of farming and local food production.
The agricultural community promises fresh air; pastoral views of beautiful, rolling farmland; a connection to nature and to where our food comes from; a clean and healthy environment; and fresh, healthy, organic food. Most importantly, it offers closer connections to a more sustainable food web. If that’s not your thing, then you probably wouldn’t want to live there. But recent research shows that having connections to nature and simply immersing ourselves in nature for 30 minutes at a time relieves stress, lowers blood pressure and offers other health benefits.
A true agricultural community has a working farm at its center, with all of the activities related to organic farming going on in real time in and around the community for all to see and partake in, if they wish. Real farmers do all the hard work, but residents are welcome to help out in the vegetable gardens for exercise and enjoyment. Or they can just walk down to the garden to sit and chat with neighbors or the farmer for a while.
The agrihood is the newest trend in urban planning and design because it’s the natural progression of a much larger farm-to-table food trend happening in America. In addition, it’s the other half of the health and wellness equation that most wellness communities are missing—the food. Total wellness is about a healthy diet and exercise, not just the exercise. The agrihood also offers numerous opportunities for neighbors to get together to share and celebrate the bounty of the harvest, such as cooking and canning classes, farm-to-table dinner events and fall harvest festivals. These social connections have important psychological benefits to our health and well-being. Let’s call that happiness.